The Benefits of Flexibility: A Lesson from the Wood Element

by Clark Zimmerman

My daughter continues to be one of my greatest teachers. Though she can be impatient from time to time, I am amazed at her ability to be flexible with whatever life gives her in the moment. Like a young sapling, she bends with the changing winds of the moment. I recently had a chance to put some of her wisdom to good use. Last weekend I had one of those travel weekends. I went to a class in Oakland and experienced three flight delays on the way down, and three more delays on my return flight. When all was said and done I ended up spending nine hours waiting to go somewhere. In the past this would have created a lot of stress and irritation. This time was different though. Instead of reacting to a problem that I couldn’t change I decided to to remain flexible and try to relax into what the day would bring.

A healthy tree or plant must have a balanced combination of strength and flexibility. The archetypical example of healthy Wood in Taoist philosophy is bamboo: It is strong enough to build a thirty-story scaffolding, but it will bend over and touch the ground in a heavy snowfall. Taoist tradition says that when Wood embodies the right balance of strength and flexibility, it can manifest its virtue of benevolence. You can witness this virtue by watching a seed as it grows into a tree. The seed sprouts and regardless of the obstacles that it faces, it continues its relentless movement toward the light. If a sapling is bent by a falling branch of a larger tree, it will simply bend and continue its growth. Of course to do this a tree must be flexible. As a tree ages, it tends to become more rigid. It relies more on strength to resist or overcome its challenges, and less on an ability to bend. This is fine when the weight of a problem isn’t too much to bear, but the moment the load is greater than the strength of a limb…snap, the limb breaks off. We can see that no matter the insult that is suffered, a tree will always bend and seek the light. This is a example of the benevolence of the Wood element.

When I was stuck at the airport, I flashed to previous experiences of getting stranded in airports. I remembered the time I raised my voice at the ticket counter lady; I thought of several occasions of worry and anger that didn’t solve any problem, rather only made me more exhausted when I finally did arrive at my destination. So this time I thought of how my flexible 4-year-old daughter would handle the change of schedule. She wouldn’t know that it was an annoying inconvenience. She would simply do what she always does and be completely present in the moment and orient towards the light of curiosity and enjoyment . I made a conscious choice to bend with the weight of the situation and turn it into a positive, and the grandest thing happened: It actually turned into a great nine hours. I met a few wonderful people, I read half of a book that I had wanted to read for months, and I was reminded that the moment is where life is happening, whether I embrace it or not.

The ability to remain flexible remains one of the most helpful skills that one can develop. To be able to remain flexible while reaching toward the light can turn a difficult situation into a more positive experience.

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Ann Zimmerman, LAc.

Ann was born and raised in a small town in Northern Indiana where she grew up among many generations of her family. The large influences of her childhood and young adult life came via her passion for soccer and traveling. Thru many years of playing soccer she learned about the physical limitations of the body and how to be part of a team, leading her to an athletic scholarship at the University of Florida. Having had the opportunity to travel at a young age illuminated Ann’s curiosity and respect for the diversity among people, systems of medicine, religions, landscapes, etc. It was after her first trip to Asia that her passion for eastern medicine and and philosophy was officially ignited. This trip also sparked an interest in the practice of yoga, meditation, and herbs, eventually leading to her undergraduate major of Cultural Anthropology. After college, Ann knew she wanted to help people and to work with plants. This led her to Chinese medicine. After a personal healing experience using acupuncture she knew she had found her path.

After four years of study, she received a Master’s degree from the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine. Upon completion of the program she married her study buddy and co-owner of Middleway Medicine, Clark Zimmerman and the two of them set out on a 6 month study/honeymoon in Asia. In 2005, they founded Middleway Medicine Acupuncture and Herbal clinic and began their healing work in Talent, Oregon. Middleway offers the service of individualized care based on Traditional Chinese medical diagnosis, using the tools of acupuncture, herbal medicine, shiatsu, nutrition, and lifestyle counseling.

Ann is NCCAOM certified and state licensed in Oregon to practice acupuncture and herbal medicine.

She is nearly fluent in Spanish, and is a certified Qigong instructor.

She has continued her studies with a focus on Women’s health; menses, fertility, pregnancy, and menopause and a strong emphasis on meditation, nutrition, and personal development.

She feels her strength as a healer is her sincerity to be present and compassionate with each of her patients. 

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Rest and Digest

by Ann Zimmerman, LAc.

Despite knowing that it’s winter; cold, dark and “normal” to slow down this time of year, I often fall into the trappings of the mind assuming my energy should be the same all year long. Unless you have seasonal work or are retired, most of us continue to work the same hours at our jobs, run the same errands, keep the same schedule with childcare and attempt to maintain the same routines.  Treating ourselves as if we are energetically the same in every season comes at the cost of our natural internal rhythm. When we do not cooperate with our internal rhythms its like swimming against the current and life gets very tiring.

So how do we slow down in the winter if we are required to keep the same schedule as if it was spring? For these kind of answers we can rely on our intuition and  wisdom traditions.  In the wisdom tradition of Traditional Chinese medicine(TCM) winter represent the most YIN aspect of the year. Yin is our  dark, cold, slow, inward energy. This can be compared to YANG energy which is upmost during Summer, light, warm, fast, outward energy.  Winter is the time for your diet and activities to nourish your yin energy.  In TCM, each organ is associated with a season and the Kidneys are associated with Winter. The Kidneys in TCM hold our most basic and fundamental energy(they are like your bodies battery). Rest is very important for charging your batteries, this is why we crave it more in the winter and why some animals hibernate. This is also the time to look inward, taking time to be reflective in a stillness practice such as meditation or journaling, . Allowing ourselves to rest and store our energy nourishes the kidneys and charges your energy battery. This can be likened to the trees and plants that send their energy down into their roots.

Translating this wisdom into our modern lives and daily practice is the challenge. I believe that giving yourself the  permission to go slower and expect less external work to be done is the first place to start with nourishing your Yin. This simple yet profound practice of participating with nature allows you to make smarter choices with your energy.  The next piece is minimizing extra commitments, this is the not the time of year to say yes to more things to do. Say yes to yourself, to doing less, sleeping more and being reflective.  Diet and exercise always plays a big part in our lives. Choose foods that are in season and cooked slowly for a long time.  Winter roots, soups, bone broth and herb tonics our food for the soul and kidneys. Be willing to change up your exercise routine on behalf of the season. Perhaps you do the same exercise but in a different way. Prioritize your sleep! If you miss sleep find a way to catch up the next night or over the weekend.

Taking the time during winter to rest and digest allows you to grow strong during the rest of the year and have plenty of energy.

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